Interview: Dylan William O’Brien (Bloodhound + Churchill)

Bartender San Francisco


What do you look for when you’re hiring somebody to work behind one of your bars?

I definitely look for a personality. I look for a certain amount of experience and skill, just because the breadth of experience that we have, and we don’t have a really complex cocktail program, but we have an expectation of quality, and I don’t really have the time or patience to start from ground zero with somebody and work them all the way through. So definitely somebody that’s experienced, but that sort of personality, that customer attention, is really important to me. I always ask people what they drink, what they like to drink at home, because that to me is instructive of what kind of drinks they’re going to make and the stuff they’re into.

What’s the criteria for a cocktail that would go on the menu at Churchill?

I actually don’t do the menu at Churchill. We have another partner there, a guy named Anthony Healy-London, who was one of our bartenders at Bloodhound, who we brought in for that project, and he’s kind of the operator and the mastermind behind the cocktail program there. I still just do the cocktail program at Bloodhound.

So what would be the criteria for a cocktail that would go on the menu at Bloodhound?

For the first year and a half, we had an abbreviated menu. We normally have nine or 10 cocktails. We sort of stick to classics, modified classics and simple spirit-driven cocktails. We do a pretty high volume of business at the bar. We try not to have too many ingredients in drinks on our featured menu because efficiency and getting drinks to the customer quickly is very important for us and for the customer. We always highlight spirits that we enjoy, that we think are made in the right way. We try to use local spirits whenever we can. Spirit-driven and uncomplicated is sort of the overarching principle.

What’s the most recent cocktail that you developed, and what was your inspiration?

We just put a drink on called the Spaghetti Western. It was a girl named Jackie Patterson, who you probably know.

I’ve heard of her. I’ve never met her.

She was a bartender in San Francisco for a long time and now works for William Grant and does – I forget what you call it – but it’s sort of their experimental selection of spirits. She was working with a product called Salerno. It’s a blood orange liqueur. It’s sort of in-between Grand Marnier and Cointreau, but with blood oranges. It’s got a little bitterness to it. She was like, “I really want to see a cocktail with that in there. Could you see what you can do?” So we did sort of a Manhattan twist, where we do Rittenhouse 100-proof rye whiskey, Punt e Mes, Salerno and Peychaud’s Bitters, served with a lemon twist. It’s called Spaghetti Western because rye whiskey is kind of Western and Salerno’s kind of Italian. Where a lot of the spaghetti Westerns were actually filmed was in Italy and Spain, out in the desert there, and it’s just kind of a fun name. That’s the latest one.

Who are some other bartenders who you really respect, who you haven’t worked with?

Erik Adkins is awesome. He works at the Slanted Door here. He’s just so incredibly passionate about cocktails and he’s really into precision and making things right. He also kind of comes out of a restaurant background as well. Sitting in his bar, it’s this massive bar and they’re so incredibly busy, but he’s still always so professional and kind and attentive to all his customers and his drinks are just amazing.

Neyah White, who doesn’t really bartend anymore. He’s off working for Yamazaki and Suntory brands, phenomenal bartender. Again, he’s incredibly creative and makes wonderful drinks and just has this encyclopedic knowledge of everything he sees, specifically spirits, cocktails. He’s also someone I think I share a view with him, which is appreciating the quality of base spirits that are out there now. It’s almost like cocktails have become more complicated as spirits have become better and in less need of being cocktail’d, if that make sense. He comes into the bar fairly often and I’m always happy to pour new drinks we’ve got for him. I like getting his input, his opinion.

What’s a cocktail that you would recommend people make at home?

I’ll tell you what, and not to be self-serving about this, but there’s a drink on our menu now – and now that ginger beer’s kind of the hot ingredient for the mass market now – bartenders have always loved it, people in the tropics have always loved it – but now I’m hearing on Friday and Saturday nights, just average joes calling for Jack and ginger beer or requesting ginger beer specifically. So I think the category of bucks are easy. You can kind of take any ingredients that taste good and the ratios don’t matter as much. People ask me how to make drinks at home, and I always say, just take ingredients that are really good on their own. Then you don’t have to worry as much, “Do I use a quarter ounce of this or a half ounce of this?” You don’t have to worry as much about the ratios. We make one called the Recoil. It’s Bulleitt Bourbon, St. Germain elderflower cordial, lime juice and ginger beer and the ratios don’t really matter, because those things all kind of work together and all taste good. Just playing around with those kinds of things is always good for the home bartender, and making long drinks. If you mess it up, you can always add a little more ginger beer to correct it.

What’s the ginger beer that you prefer?

We use Fever Tree, which is an English company, which I love. They don’t use any high fructose corn syrup, which is good. It strikes a really nice balance of spicy and sweet. A lot of ones on the market are too much of one or the other. It has enough bite to it, but it’s not a spicy peppery thing. It still has enough sweetness to balance it.

Where and what do you like to drink when you’re not working?

As I said, I drink at home a lot because I spend a lot of time in bars, having two of them. Lately I’ve been drinking a lot of mezcal. I’m into mezcal, which I know is also of the moment. It’s just such a cool product. There aren’t any large companies there. Pretty much all the mezcals on the market are artisanal, handmade, made by farmers. It’s a great buzz. I drink a lot of beer too. I love beer. There’s a great place across from Bloodhound called City Beer Store. Awesome. Craig and Beth are two of the coolest people and they’re so incredibly knowledgeable. You’ll find stuff in there that you’re never going to find anywhere else. They’ve got a focus on sour beers. I’ve been drinking a lot of sour beers lately, which I think are fascinating. It’s like champagne.

I was just down at the Stone Brewing Co. Sour Fest.

Oh, man, I really wanted to go to that.

It was insane. It was over 50 different sours, two Cantillon, four Russian River, all this New Belgium and Cascade. It was great.

Cascade is amazing. I went up to Portland a couple months ago and went to their brewpub.

The barrel house?

Yeah, the barrel house.

I heard that’s incredible.

It’s really cool. It’s not much to look at, but man, they have like 10 of their beers on draft, lots of stuff they’re only pouring at the barrel house, really cool.

Ron [Gansberg] is a character. I’ve interviewed him before.

I haven’t had a chance to meet him. That’s what I’m drinking. In terms of where I’m drinking, I live in Oakland, so I go out there a lot. I go to Pizzaiolo, which is a restaurant. That’s great. Adesso’s right around the corner from my house, and they’ve got great charcuterie and salumi. A really nice cocktail program as well.

It seems like the Oakland cocktail scene has really exploded in the past couple years.

Yeah, it’s coming together. A lot of places have opened. Not a lot of them have stood out yet.

Is that where your project is going to be?

It’s actually Emeryville.

Okay, the land of Pixar?

The land of Pixar, yeah, and the land of a lot of big companies.

So this will be kind of the first cocktail bar in Emeryville.

Yeah. First and only. Yeah, there are two other bars there, but nothing of any quality.

Is that why you’re going there?

That’s one of the reasons. I definitely wanted to do something closer to home, and the space that I’ve been looking at is one that I’ve had my eyes on for years, and sort of through a strange confluence of circumstances, just kind of fell in my lap.

If you could only fill your glass with one more cocktail, what would be in it?

What would be in it? The truth is that I don’t really drink a lot of cocktails. I drink more spirits and beer. I’m really into a beautiful well-made spirit enjoyed the way that it’s supposed to be enjoyed. If it’s going to be a cocktail, what would it be? The truth is it would probably be an old fashioned.

Who would make it? And it can’t be you.

Oh man, that’s a good question. If it was my last cocktail of my life, gosh, it’s a tough one. Does it have to be a bartender?


I don’t know if I have a good answer for that. The last great old fashioned I had was made by Thad Vogler. I don’t know if he’s the last person I want to see before I die. I mean I like Thad.


Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

Blog Comments

I so enjoyed reading this. It was at once informative and tantalizing. The enthusiasm for quality and the cocktail as art enticed me. Good interview with a bartender whose taste is sophisticated,excited and, seemingly, without borders. Great!


Dylan came across well during our in-person interview, and I finally had a chance to try one of his cocktails on Saturday at Bloodhound. The next time you’re there, if you like spirit-forward drinks, ask him for a Boulevardier.

Leave a Comment